“GO BACK TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM. GO BACK TO MEXICO AND NEVER COME BACK!”
I intentionally capitalized and boldfaced those angry words spoken to a 5-year-old by a “mean girl.” Can you imagine hearing such awful, horrible words directed at you? Yet, they are all too common. If not spoken, then thought.
Ashley, the subject in an art exhibit, “I Am Minnesota,” by Faribault portrait artist Kate Langlais, experienced that hatred. She reported the insult to her mom and her principal. I’m thankful she called out the bully, because no one should have to endure such disrespect, especially a kindergartner.
And I’m thankful to Kate, the artist, for taking on this project which features portraits of first and second-generation immigrants living in Faribault and their stories. Her portraits are currently exhibited at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault through September 12.
Kate invites viewers to “recall what they know about their family’s immigration stories.”
But she pushes beyond that to prompt thought about problems immigrants must overcome—language barriers, cultural differences, acceptance (or not) by neighbors.
After viewing Kate’s thought-provoking portraits and accompanying life summaries, I walked over to a larger gallery featuring art by the Escape Artists. Right away, I connected the two. Not because the art is at all alike. But because of the word “escape.” The subjects in Kate’s portraits escaped oppression, war, poverty and more for life in America. The Escape Artists are a group of artist friends who, 30-plus years ago, began escaping together to create art.
As I meandered through the gallery, I considered the Escape Artists’ art with the imprint of Kate’s portraits on my mind. For example, Theresa Harsma writes in her artist’s statement for “On the Ragged Edge” of sorting through her collection of found objects and choosing those that seemed to want to be part of the piece. Just like immigrants want to be part of the piece that is America.
I expect LInda Van Lear’s painting of “1938 Church Wedding” includes immigrants among wedding guests, probably even in the bridal party.
And I interpreted Susanne Crane’s “Lasso the Moon” as lassoing dreams. Dreams of a better life for those who came to America, including my forefathers, and probably yours.
Back to artist Theresa Harsma, another work, “Streams of Consciousness, Rivers of Green,” struck me in its connection to one story in “I Am Minnesota.” Three times Maria attempted to cross the river from Mexico into the U.S. The determination, the exhaustion, the despair—they’re all woven into her story. No matter how you feel about immigration issues, at the very core is a human being, now a Minnesotan, with struggles, hopes and dreams.
Once I finished touring the Escape Artists’ exhibit, I shifted my focus to a Johnny Cash and Elvis pop-up show in a small corner gallery. In some ways, these two musicians were escape artists, too, escaping through their music.
I love when art, from a divergence of artists, connects. We are all different. Yet alike in our humanity.
FYI: The Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue North, Faribault, is open Thursday-Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. The above exhibits close on September 12.
© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling